Growing vegetables in the flower border has become fashionable in recent years but here's a vegetable that always been easy to appreciate for its decorative value - the runner bean. What other climber has such vivid flowers and also makes a nutritious addition to Sunday dinner? Scarlet runner bean hails from the mountainous regions of Guatamala, Mexico and Panama so it's travelled a long way on its journey to the gardens and allotments of Britain .... and changed a good deal along the way. The seeds and pods are monstrous compared with the diminutive wild versions and the pods have been bred to reduce the stringy tissue and parchment layer in the pod wall that would make wild pods shatter and release seeds as they dry out. Runner beans are usually grown as annuals (I've just sown what I hope will be an early crop) but they are perennials in the wild and if you can keep the roots frost-free through the winter they'll produce a second year's growth, albeit with inferior pod production. If you are of a curious nature and fancy some amateur plant breeding you could try crossing French beans with runner beans, by carefully removing stamens from French bean flowers with fine tweezers before they shed pollen and then pollinating the flowers with runner bean pollen a day or two later. The cross works with French beans as the female parent, but not the other way about.